The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), al-Haq Organization and al-Mezan Center for Human Rights organized on Tuesday, 06 August 2019, a joint workshop titled: “Shrinking Freedom Space for Civil Society” in Lighthouse Restaurant in Gaza Sea. The workshop, which was attended by tens representing Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and experts in the issues of the Palestinian civil society, particularly human rights organizations, discussed policies and measures taken against the CSOs and human rights organizations in Palestine to shrink their freedom space and undermine their work and credibility.
The workshop was facilitated by Mr. Hamdi Shaqourah, PCHR’s Deputy Director for Programs’ Affairs, as he addressed the outgrowing restrictions against CSOs in a time we are in desperate need for a bigger workspace to confront all the challenges imposed by Israel before these organizations. Shaqourah also mentioned the frantic campaigns by Israel and far-right organizations, aiming to undermine the Palestinian civil society merely for criticizing the Israeli policies. He added that these campaigns come along with increasing restrictions imposed by the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) on CSOs.
Mr. Raji Sourani Opened the workshop by emphasizing that the CSOs blossomed out of very complicated circumstances and not in an easeful atmosphere in light of the Israeli occupation and before the establishment of the PNA. He stressed that despite denying them any attempts of development and progress and facing arrests and prosecutions, the CSOs succeeded to overcome all these challenges which have even encouraged them to defend Palestinians’ rights. Sourani added that the main and effective role played by the Palestinian human rights organizations in prosecuting the Israeli leaders in the international courts has recently made Israel launch smear campaigns to incite against funding these organizations. Sourani also reviewed the illegal measures and restrictions imposed by the PNA on the CSOs that has been ongoing since its establishment, mentioning the recent measures taken by the Palestinian Government in Ramallah against the non-profit organizations, particularly the Palestinian Cabinet’s decision for 2016 and the successive measures which would restrict more their work and shrink their freedom space. Sourani emphasized that all of this would never frustrate the CSOs but would encourage them to mobilize all efforts to face these challenges.
Maha ‘Abdullah, a legal researcher and advocacy officer at Al-Haq in Ramallah, reviewed “Israeli defamation and threat campaigns against Palestinian human rights organizations” through her work in prosecuting the Israeli leaders in the international courts, including systematic incitement against funding these organizations and distorting their work. She pointed out that these campaigns are led by the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs and its affiliate right-wing organizations to undermine the credibility of the Palestinian organizations’ work and withhold their funding. Maha also talked about the inciting article published on the Ministry of Strategic Affairs’ website against the director of the Al-Haq Sha’wan Jabarin, and the right-wing organizations’ comments explicitly calling for killing Jabarin. Maha said that the right-wing organizations incite against CSOs under the pretext of having ties with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Maha also reviewed the Israeli measures and restrictions on the freedom of movement of human rights activists, especially while documenting the Israeli violations against Palestinian civilians in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). She recommended the need to create a joint database for the Israeli and Palestinian violations committed against CSOs.
In his intervention titled “Government’s Restrictions on Associations’ Work,” Samir Zaqout, Deputy Director of al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, emphasized the great significance of civil society and its historical role in providing services even before the establishment of PNA. Zaqout reviewed the Interior Ministry’s practices in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as well as its interference into the associations’ work. He pointed out that these practices come to discredit and doubt the work of these associations and their staff without evidence. He also stressed the need to stand united to confront such meddling by the government.
Mohammed Abu Hashim, a legal researcher at PCHR, presented a paper titled “Government’s Restrictions on the Funding to Non-Profit Companies in accordance with the International Standards”. He firstly addressed the “non-profit companies” term, stressing that it is one of the forms of the right to association according to international standards; thus, these companies are protected under international conventions, especially the international covenants on human rights that are binding to the PA as an acceding State to the covenants. Abu Hashim explained how the financial restrictions on non-profit companies were legalized and how the latter needs to go through seven procedural stages in order to be able to receive bank transfers. At the end of his intervention, Abu Hashem stressed the need to cancel all the Cabinet’s decisions that restrict the right to receiving funds.